Benji Marshall has announced his retirement from the NRL after 19 years and 346 appearances in four clubs, dating with close mentor Wayne Bennett by his side.
Marshall, 36, was briefly emotional as he began his media conference before ruling it to thank fans, friends and family.
“I started my journey in rugby league as a little boy from Whakatane chasing a dream,” said a tearful Marshall.
“I am leaving this game as a man who has learned many lessons.
“Nineteen seasons in the NRL is more than half the length of my life.”
Marshall said he had to overcome five shoulder reconstructions in his first five seasons and revealed that he nearly retired seven years ago.
Bennett has been his savior on more than one occasion, taking him to Brisbane in 2017 and taking him to South Sydney this season.
Marshall’s Souths teammates were in attendance for his announcement and he started thanking them.
“You play for your friends and you don’t let each other down,” Marshall said.
“I want to thank the NRL for letting me be a part of this great game, I want to thank the West Tigers, South Sydney Rabbitohs, the Brisbane Broncos and the St. George Illawarra Dragons for the opportunity to be a part of those four great Clubs.
“I would like to mention South Sydney especially for the opportunity to finish on my terms. For the chance to represent this great club wear the shirt with such a great team and i feel it really helped my legacy to be in a place i really wanted to be when i finished playing this game.
“I would like to make an additional mention of the West Tigers that I am a lifelong member of. I’ve spent most of my life in the rugby league for the West Tigers and won a game with them in 2005 – something I’ll never forget.”
Marshall then thanked his Keebra Park high school coach Greg Lenton, who he said was an integral part of him and believed he could make it as a rugby league player, while others felt he was “just a footy player. “
“Although I played very differently – I had a big, bouncy, ugly looking side step thing that everyone thought was weird and I did these crazy passes and everyone thought that wasn’t normal – Greg Lenton encouraged me to be able to play the way what I want to play, and let those talents come out.”
Marshall paid tribute to two of his former NRL coaches – Tim Sheens of the Tigers and Bennett.
Sheens, he said, “helped me get through and become the player I am today. His mentorship, his coaching, his encouragement that I could use my skills, is second to none.
“And I also want to make a special mention of the man sitting next to me, Wayne Bennett. I know Wayne knows this, but I would have retired about seven years ago if he hadn’t given me the chance in Brisbane.
“Sometimes you just have a special bond as a player and coach and some people would say father and son. Wayne, I want to thank you for the opportunity and for believing and trusting that I have this moment today because without being here I think I don’t think this would be the same.”